Debutant director Avinash Arun is the new kid on the block and he has created a huge stir on the film festival circuit with his maiden Marathi venture, Killa. The critically acclaimed film won the coveted Crystal Bear Award (Generation Kplus section) at the Berlin Film Festival and the Silver Gateway Award at the recent Mumbai Film Festival. His movie will enjoy a theatrical release in India early next year. In conversation with Sagorika Dasgupta, Arun talks about his journey
How did you get into the film industry?
I am from Solapur in Maharashtra and I travelled across the state quite a lot during my childhood. When I was around eight, my father used to take me to the cinemas and I grew fascinated with the entire world of movies. I was only in Std VIII when I asked my father how I could learn filmmaking. He said there was a film school called FTII, in Pune where I could study to become a filmmaker. So immediately after I took the STD X exams, I joined FTII and began assisting student filmmakers like Umesh Kulkarni (Deool) on his film Girni. Every student at FTII needs a helping hand when making films for their diploma and I was glad to offer.
Later, you studied at FTII too.
Yeah. It was only natural for me to do so. I knew it was very important to focus on one skill, so I chose to study cinematography because I was fascinated with that aspect of filmmaking. Besides, it is very difficult to make a film fresh off being a graduate. You have to assist someone before you start directing. So, I worked as a cinematographer in quite a few films. I shot a short film for Anurag Kashyap and another one for Nishikanth Kamat called Madari, which has Irrfan and Jimmy Sheirgill in the lead.
Your first film Killa has already created quite a buzz. How have your friends and family reacted to it?
I am so happy that the film has been appreciated so much. But the funny thing is that up until the film released at festivals, my mother didn’t know what my job entailed. I took her to one of the screenings and after watching the film, she said, ‘But you weren’t there in the film.’ (Laughs)
How did the idea of the film take shape?
It was an autobiographical film and the idea took root when I was studying at FTII. As I mentioned earlier, I had travelled a lot as a child. I moved from the Konkan region to the interiors of Maharashtra quite extensively. Every two to three years, my family would move and I had to find new friends wherever we went. It upset me every time when I had to lose one set of friends and find a new set. I used to feel dismayed that my friends would forget me after I moved. But the experience changed my perspective of life. I learnt so much about culture, cuisine, dialects and grew to understand human relationships better. This is what I have tried to essay through my film, which is about a young boy and how he deals with the situations that come his way when his mother has to keep shifting cities due to the nature of her job.
Since it was your first film, was it tough to find producers to back it?
Not really. I found producers quite accidentally. I was assisting Ajay Rai, in the camera department on Kai Po Che, and he told me he wanted to invest in a film as a producer. He asked me if I knew anyone with a good script. I seized the opportunity and told him I had a concept in mind. I narrated it to him and the very next day, he called me to say that he was on board to invest in my film. I told him I didn’t have a script yet but he supported me. This was in April last year and by July, I completed my script and we went on the floor.
The film was screened at the Berlinale. What did that feel like?
Exceptional! The best thing about the Berlinale was that mine is a film about kids and it was screened to an audience of 1,400 children. The reception it received was fantastic! I want my film to travel to as many kids as it can. The sad part is that we don’t really have screenings specially for children in India. Barring one or two organisations like the CFSI (Children’s Film Society of India), there are no film clubs or a formal channel for children’s films. It is very important to nurture skills in children from a young age. When I was in school, we had a 16-mm projector and they used to show us all kinds of European and English films like Chaplin’s films. It had such a major influence on me. I fervently hope schools focus on things like this.
Your film also won the Crystal Bear at Berlin. Did you see that coming?
No, I didn’t. When it won the Crystal Bear, a senior jury member told me that mine was the last film they saw among 1,600 films. It meant a lot to me that so many films were competing and that they saved the best for last!
What was it like filming with kids?
I have heard so many people say that you need a lot of patience to film with kids. Filmmaking is a complex art, you have to deal with so many energies and egos to ultimately get what you want. But for my film, the whole universe conspired to make sure things go smoothly.
Since you have worked as a cinematographer on Hindi films, why did you decide to make your first film in Marathi? Wouldn’t a Hindi film have a wider reach?
A film like Killa couldn’t have been made in Hindi. Who would have released a film that has no star cast and has kids in it? It was a personal story so I wanted to live it through my mother tongue. I know that in this mad rush for wider reach, my story would have died a quiet death had it released along with the big, star-driven films. I have worked in the Hindi industry and I know that even star-driven films are important for the economy of films, but these economics are a little flawed too. Why should you have the same ticket prices, at Rs 500 ticket, for a film like Killa and a star-driven film? For a film to make Rs 100 crore at the box office, a filmmaker has to pump in at least Rs 5-10 crore as P&A. For a film like Killa, which is made on a budget of Rs 1 crore, where will that marketing budget come from? This is an ongoing debate and I think the audience should be given the power to choose which film to watch without the crazy economics thrown at them.
At the Mumbai Film Festival, this year, on public demand, the organisers added a special screening of the film. Were you aware of that?
I wasn’t. I was away shooting a film but I began getting texts and calls saying the audience wanted more screenings of the film. MAMI was very important for us because I wanted to gauge the audience reaction on home turf. So I am overwhelmed.
At MAMI, the film won two awards – Silver Gateway Award and the Special Jury Award for the ensemble cast. Were you disappointed that Chauranga beat you to the first prize?
No. I don’t chase awards. All the awards I have won are with my producers. For me, awards are a burden you carry while making your next film. Festivals are very close to my heart, because that’s where the buzz happens but I want my films to enjoy a Friday release. You want your films to be seen by as many people as there are. The journey of a film begins in the mind of a filmmaker and finishes in the heart of the audience. It is the responsibility of a filmmaker to make sure this path is complete. That’s why a Friday screening in a cinema is dearest to my heart. Agar ek Friday se zyada chal jaaye, toh aur bhi accha hai.
Now that the Essel Group has acquired the film, when will it release theatrically?
Zee is one of the biggest distributors of Marathi films and I am happy that they have acquired my film. We are looking at a January 2015 release.
We recently took the film to the Dharamshala Film Festival and will take it to IFFI and work towards the theatrical release. Apart from that, I have two scripts ready. One is a Hindi film that I have pitched to a star who has almost agreed to come on board. The other film is a Marathi film.